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To Burn or To Boast? (1 Cor 13:3) — Mondays with Mounce 257

Categories Mondays with Mounce

A little textual criticism. Paul writes, “If I give away everything I own, and if I surrender (παραδῶ) my body in order to boast (καυχήσωμαι), but do not have love, it benefits me nothing.”

As soon as you check other translations, you see that there is a textual issue. The NASB has, “surrender my body to be burned,” following the reading of the καυθήσομαι (along with the ESV, KJV). Two letter difference.

Others translate καυχήσωμαι (HCSB, NIV, NRSV, NLT). Metzger (Textual Commentary) argues that it is more likely that the original καυχήσωμαι (“to boast”) was changed to καυθήσομαι (“to burn”) once martyrdom by burning became more frequent. His argument seems conclusive.

But there still remains the NIV’s, “give over my body to hardship.” I suspect — I was not on the committee when this decision was made — that the reason for adding “to hardship” was because the simple word for word translation makes no sense. The HCSB’s “if I give my body in order to boast” isn’t English; what is the correlation between “give” and “boast”? But it does make sense to give yourself over to hardship in order that you can boast about it (in Paul’s positive sense of boasting; cf. 2 Cor 8:24; Phil 2:16; 1 Thess 2:19; 2 Thess 1:4). So “to hardship” was probably added to make sense of the verse, the idea supplied by context. (Doug Moo, the Chair of the CBT, just confirmed that this is correct.)

The expansive NLT makes this point: “If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.”

Once again we see the fact illustrated, that sometimes a word for word translation makes no sense. We translate meaning, not words.

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William D. [Bill] Mounce posts about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics on the ZA Blog. He is the author of numerous works including the recent Basics of Biblical Greek Video Lectures and the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek. He is the general editor of Mounce's Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testament Words. He served as the New Testament chair of the English Standard Version Bible translation, and is currently on the Committee for Bible Translation for the NIV.

Learn more about Bill's Greek resources at Teknia.com and visit his blog on spiritual growth at BiblicalTraining.org/blog/life-journey.

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